October 26, 2010

Indian domestic cricket

The great India domestic season

Aakash Chopra
Mumbai celebrate their 39th Ranji Trophy victory, Karnataka v Mumbai, Ranji Trophy final, Mysore, 4th day, January 14, 2010
The story of domestic cricket in India isn't much different from that of small-town India: vying for recognition and hoping to make a mark nationally  © Sportz Solutions
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Nothing gives me more pleasure than penning down my thoughts on the great Indian domestic season. The story isn't much different from that of small-town India: vying for recognition and hoping to make a mark nationally. With aspirations, come trials, fascinating and enduring. This blog is indeed an effort to bring those many untold yet intriguing stories about first-class cricket to the forefront, and hence give you readers an opportunity to get to know Indian cricket closely.

A good parameter to determine how serious state cricket associations are about a lacklustre, bland, and apparently irrelevant domestic match is simply the intent and the initiative that has gone into organising it. Sample this for instance: in the North Zone, all matches are still played during the day, on a venue with two grounds, accommodating two matches simultaneously. The facilities, whatever little, are of course divided between four teams, with two of them being forced to sit in makeshift dressing rooms made in the form of tents. And if that doesn't speak enough about the abysmal affairs, all four teams and the staff share only two toilets. Of course, the managers of the show would have wanted to cut down 'undue' work and hassle and so have continued to plan such games year after year. What is put on stake though is - a first-class player's honour, the quality of the show, and the state cricket association's reputation. Clearly then, neither the game nor the player is the real stakeholder in domestic tournaments.

To my utter disbelief and pleasure, the set-up in the Central Zone is very different to the one in the North. Firstly, and more importantly, the matches here are played at an international venue, which in turn means state-of-the-art facilities for all players. Instead of going for the easier option of having two grounds and only day matches, they've opted to have only one ground and even have a match under lights. And since just switching on the floodlights turns a cricket match into a spectacle, the stadia too saw a modest turnout. Enthusiastic fans turned up, maybe not in huge numbers, but they did turn up to catch a glimpse of the stars and cheer for their favourite teams.

That apart, there still are potent issues lurking in the backdrop - for instance, the timing of the ongoing domestic Twenty20 tournament [the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy Twenty20 tournament], being held only a week before the all important first-class season. Right now the players are practicing their throw-caution-to-the-wind skills with the white ball but are expected to switch gears in just about five days for the longer format. Most teams though, have identified the Ranji Trophy as their preferred tournament and the one that they have set their eye on, and are hence preparing accordingly. A catch-22 of sorts - players have to up the ante in Twenty20, to make sure they catch the eye of the IPL scouts, and also, get back in the groove, well in time for the longer format. It may mean playing a slightly different brand of cricket in the first round of Ranji Trophy, but then, so be it.

And then, can anyone explain why the knockouts of the Twenty20 tournament have been planned a good five months later in March? Having the league phase in October and knockouts after such a long gap makes little sense. It not only takes away the continuity but also the charm of the tournament. It's like watching a thriller and then asking the audience to wait five months for the climax. And from the organizer's perspective, it's nothing short of shooting yourself in the foot. Also, what about the Twenty20 specialists, who after this tournament, may not find a place in the Ranji mix, and would be left in the lurch for four months?

Wouldn't it be better to find a two-week window either at the end of the season or at the beginning and finish this tournament in one stretch? By having it in two halves, separated by four months, is as good as devaluing its importance and robbing it off the thrill, the format is known for.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

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Posted by Kiran on (October 29, 2010, 11:52 GMT)

Hi Akash, your point is well made however i disagree with one point. The fact that domestic players go straight into a ranji trophy season after the league stages of T20 competition is afterall not a bad idea. At international stage also the same thing happens the players are not given too many opputunities to acclimatise themselves with different formats so it is only fair that they get used to it at domestic level. But it is really shocking that domestic players are not provided with appropriate facilities at the venues. Yes indeed the fact that the knock out stage of the T20 season is in March is absolutely rediculous

Posted by Ashok on (October 29, 2010, 6:07 GMT)

Though Chennai won IPL, a Ranji win for TN will be ten times as sweet. We will make the semis but I think we are one fast bowler too short for the knock outs. I think it will be Karnataka this time around especially if Rahul is around for the finishing stages and knockout. They have the bowlers and the batsmen. My prediction is that the next pair of Karnataka super stars will be sighted this season.

Posted by vibh_ch on (October 28, 2010, 17:46 GMT)

@Uttam:Thanks for mentioning about that great match between Karnataka and Mumbai at the Gangotri Glades in Mysore.What a wicket it was and such a thrilling contest was just befitting the crowded stadium and the occassion.Such games need to be spoken of more often.It certainly is far batter than many of the meaningless international matches that India have been playing recently.I,for one,could not care a damn for the Ind-Sl final of the tri-series that was taking place in Dhaka at the same time as the Ranji final.

Posted by Chinmay on (October 28, 2010, 16:08 GMT)

Ranji Trophy is still the premier domestic tournament, and from a Mumbai point of view, at a time when Mumbaikars are fast disappearing from Test team, it offers great pleasure due to the fact that Mumbai are still, without doubt the cricketing powerhouse of India as seen from our three trophies in last five seasons.

IPL is basically meaningless apart from the pay check. No one cares about Chennai's win last season, while Mumbai's win over Karnataka in a thrilling finale in front of a capacity crowd at Gangothri Glades is something that no real Mumbaikar (or, even Kannadiga) will ever forget.

And, yes this post was written to largely rile up non Mumbaikars ;)

Posted by Uttam on (October 28, 2010, 12:52 GMT)

Ranji trophy can be made to work. Witness the crowds for last year's final in Mysore. A unified approach is what is needed. Test cricket should be only played in venues where the crowds will come: Eden Park, Chinnaswamy, etc. Ranji trophy matches should only be played in regional grounds, like Gangothri Glades. Results-friendly pitches MUST be prepared. Ticket prices for domestic cricket must be cheap or free. Cross-marketing with regional television advertising rising or future stars should be explored. Mixed private-public partnerships should be explored with local support from the traditional men's clubs. And as Ashish points out, the schedules of all the tournaments and IPL should be harmonized.

Posted by Abhijeet Ganguly on (October 28, 2010, 6:48 GMT)

Dear Akash,

I would like to request you to write on the upcoming exciting talents in the country. Being a former India cricketer you can spot a talent.I am sure a lot of readers would be interested to know who can possibly be our bench strength and in playing 11 later on.

Posted by visakh on (October 28, 2010, 4:42 GMT)

thank god i read this article.am 4m kerala and 4 the first time we reached the knockout.ever since i have been waiting 4 knockouts to start

Posted by Shishir on (October 27, 2010, 15:02 GMT)

Akash,generally, as a rule, you write good, insightful articles that focus mainly on our Ranji Scene. This is really great.

However, somehow, this article, I felt, lacked depth. It was as if you started to say something, but stopped midway. You could probably have made it longer and more complete.

Be that as it may, please do continue to write about Ranji Trophy; that might instill more interest in Ranji Trophy at least among the net-savvy populace. And RT needs all the interest it can garner. I just hope Ranji somehow becomes glamorous. For eg., last year's final was really great to follow on Cricinfo, with enthusiastic commentary followed by an equally enthusiastic set of feedback coming in regularly.

I just hope such great pitches as in Mysore are made and more such thrilling matches ensue.

Posted by James on (October 27, 2010, 11:52 GMT)

Ashish, Your comment betrays a lack of knowledge and respect for not just prestigious domestic tournaments but also the demeans their importance to aspiring domestic players. Class players like Dravid, Laxman, and recently Pujara would have never emerged if it wasn't for first class cricket.

Posted by P.Balasubramaniam on (October 27, 2010, 7:02 GMT)

Not taking care of dometic tournaments is inviting doom for the game.

Comments have now been closed for this article

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aakash Chopra
Aakash Chopra is the 245th Indian to represent India in Test cricket. A batsman in the traditional mould, he played 10 Tests for India in 2003-04, and has played over 120 first-class matches. He currently plays for Delhi in the Ranji Trophy; his book Beyond the Blues was an account of the 2007-08 season. Chopra made a formidable opening combination with Virender Sehwag, which was believed to be one of the reasons for India's success in Australia and Pakistan in 2003-04. He is considered one of the best close-in fielders India has produced after Eknath Solkar.

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